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Participatory Culture, Community, and Play

Learning from Reddit


Adrienne L. Massanari

What does online community look like in the age of social networking? How do participatory culture platforms reflect both their designers’ intentions and the desires of their users? In this incisive and timely work, Adrienne L. Massanari discusses how culture is created and challenged on, the self-proclaimed «front page of the internet». Reddit enables the sharing of original and reposted content from around the web, and provides a platform for like-minded individuals to commune around topics of interest – everything from the joys of drinking beer in a shower (/r/showerbeer) to celebrating the pleasures of tidy penmanship (/r/penmanshipporn). Massanari’s ethnographic work provides a detailed examination of the contradictions that shape Reddit’s culture and how they reflect its role as an epicenter of geek culture. The book explores the ways in which community on Reddit is formed and solidified through play and humor, and the complex ways in which Redditors come together, which demonstrate a deep capacity for altruism and charitable giving, but can easily lapse into mob action. It also explores the community’s troubling gender and racial politics and how some Redditors are carving out their own space on the site to fight back.
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Chapter 4. Reliving the past [REPOST]


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Redditors are a curious bunch. For all of their excitement about discovering, sharing, and reveling in the new, they also spend a lot of time talking about the past. Stumble into any public conversation on the default subreddits and inevitably someone will make some reference to a past meme or a past event that is from reddit’s history or suggest the post is actually a repost or decry how crappy the content has become since he joined the site. He retreads the same conversations, posts and remixes the same memes, and then complains about both. This becomes part of the (in)famous “hivemind” or “reddit circlejerk” of which many redditors disparagingly talk. Given all of this, why would anyone keep visiting, voting, and commenting on reddit? For many, the answer is that they unsubscribe to the defaults and ignore whatever is happening there. These redditors stick to a smaller subset of subreddits tailored to their interests that mostly avoid these kinds of continual replays of the same conversations. Part of this transition, I argue, happens as site visitors move from being novices to becoming full members of the community.

Others take a different path. Some individuals demonstrate an almost myopic focus on reddit’s own inner workings, its drama, and its eccentricities. As I mentioned in the last chapter, redditors have a preoccupation with themselves that can manifest in both cynicism and a kind of naïve...

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